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More Supervision on Subsidized Housing Claims
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Stricter supervision over the qualifications of people living in low-rent housing will be implemented to avoid welfare abuse, the Ministry of Construction (MOC) revealed at the weekend.

Applicants are subject to a verification procedure from the time they submit their applications to getting approval and through finally exiting the system.

The country's low-rent housing policy has begun to pay off, as 76 percent of the country's cities have adopted the mechanism, said a report released by the MOC, which urged the remaining 70 cities to join in.

China has invested 4.74 billion yuan (US$590 million) in the program, and more than 329,000 families have benefited.

Among them, 29 percent of the families received rental subsidies, 14 percent have found homes in government-owned or rented houses, and 55 percent receive rent discounts from their landlords, the report said.

Currently 11 Chinese regions, including Hebei, Zhejiang and Shanxi provinces, have made the policy's implementation an important criterion in evaluating local government officials' performance.

In Beijing, Shanghai and Hebei Province, local governments have mapped out their needy urban families and succeeded in covering most of them with subsidies.

Beijing has increased the number of residents - including those receiving minimum living allowances to low-income ones - who are benefiting from the low-rent housing policy thanks to a revision in the urban low-rent housing plan made at the end of last year.

According to the plan, families with monthly per capita income lower than 580 yuan (US$72) and living in areas smaller than 7.5 square metres per person are allowed to apply for help.

The threshold last year for applying for a subsidy for rented housing is 300 yuan a month, which is minimum to live in the city.

A group of 13 households low-income families become on Friday the first beneficiaries of the revised housing policy.

By the end of last year, 15,000 residents had moved into subsidized rental housing.

This year, Beijing will continue to expand the program through construction as subsidies will remain the main solution to the low-rent housing issue.

Similar subsidy programs exist in most other Chinese cities. However, some experts say they see flaws in the current system.

Some less developed cities lack the money to help their impoverished residents, such as Suqian and Taizhou, in northern Jiangsu Province.

"Government money is mainly invested in other more urgent issues such as compulsory education, but we will solve the housing problem step by step," said an employee of the Suqian Labor and Social Security Bureau who declined to be identified.

About 20,000 families are covered by the policy in this eastern province, but the number of those in need may exceed 500,000, according to some estimates.

Some analysts propose using tougher criteria to make sure the subsidies go to those whose need is the most dire.

(China Daily April 11, 2006)

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